Mike Fisher hasn't been able to join his teammates on the ice for their last three games, but that doesn't mean the Nashville Predators captain hasn't been doing just as much as ever to continue leading the club as they climb back into the thick of the NHL standings.
Fisher, who has been out of the lineup since Nov. 3 with an upper-body injury, skated with his teammates during practice on Wednesday at Bridgestone Arena. The centerman said he's hoping to return to the lineup "soon," but Fisher has found other ways to fulfill his leadership duties.
"I'm still around and try to encourage guys as much as I can through ups and downs," Fisher said. "My job is just to stay even-keeled. There's guys that haven't had the starts they wanted, lots of different guys, and I'm just keeping everyone up and positive, because we've all been through it, but it is how you grow. So I try and help those guys as much as you can."
In Fisher's absence, Ryan Ellis has served as a third alternate captain for the Preds during the past three games. It's still business as usual for the defenseman, even with the addition of a letter to his jersey.
"I think everyone is a leader in their own way in the dressing room, whether it be on the ice, off the ice, everyone brings something to our team," Ellis said. "Just because you get that opportunity doesn't mean you have to change in any way. For me, I think I just go about things the same way; if I'm vocal, be vocal, if I'm aggressive, be aggressive - whatever it is. I'm going to be the same player."
"He's a guy that's stepped up and done a good job," Fisher said of Ellis. "He approaches the game right, he works and he's done a good job."
Ellis agrees that Fisher has found ways to continue to be a positive influence in the locker room during his on-ice absence, a key element in helping the team find success in their recent outings.
"He's done a great job, and not being in the lineup, it's tough for anyone, but especially for a guy we rely on in the room and on the ice like Fish," Ellis said. "But he's around giving input, trying to help guys out, being positive and that's what you need from a leader."
A full-time alternate captain, defenseman Roman Josi believes in the importance for players like himself, Fisher and other veterans to remain levelheaded, especially during a stretch like the one the Preds have endured in the early going. And while Josi says there is still plenty of work to be done, he also sees his team continuing to get better daily.
"I think whenever it doesn't go well, a lot of the younger guys are trying to look up to leaders on the team, and I think whenever you're in a little slump, you can't get too frustrated," Josi said. "Young guys feel that, young guys see that if the older players stay calm and just keep talking, keep communicating, we'll be good, and I think we're on the right path."
As the young team continues to grow with one another, now 12 games into the season and with points in four straight, things are beginning to hit an upward trajectory. For Fisher, it was only a matter of time before it began.
"I have a lot of confidence in this group as far as the leaders in the room and the character and the talent," Fisher said. "We feel like we're in a good spot."
Nobody Said It Was Easy:
Predators Head Coach Peter Laviolette spoke on his team's up and down start on Wednesday afternoon, a segment that has included triumphs over Chicago and Pittsburgh, as well as efforts that were anything but satisfactory.
The bench boss knows his team's recent 2-0-2 stretch - a period Laviolette believes could have easily resulted in four wins - doesn't mean all their problems have been solved. But at the same time, there's reason to think there are more good days ahead as the Preds - and the NHL's 29 other clubs - all vie for one thing.
"I can guarantee you that the team that wins the Stanley Cup this year will have gone 3-5-2 in 10 games, we just caught ours right off the bat," Laviolette said. "It could be us, it could be somebody else, but no team rarely goes through a year where they play every 10-game segment above .500; they'll have to figure it out. We got dealt this early, and we're dealing with it."
Fisher (upper-body, day-to-day) and defenseman Anthony Bitetto (upper-body, IR) both participated in practice on Wednesday as they continue to progress.
"I feel good," Fisher said. "I've had a couple good skates and we'll see tomorrow [as far as potentially playing against St. Louis]. I'm hoping to get in there soon, but we'll see tomorrow."
Defenseman P.K. Subban did not skate and was given a maintenance day.
Shot of the Day: